Reads like a buttoned-down Tom Wolfe.

PETROLEUM MAN

Satirical self-portrait of a tycoon better at managing his money than his family—in Crawford’s first novel since Some Instructions (1978).

Leon Tuggs is a starchy old blowhard whose fortune just keeps on growing. Its basis is his invention, the Thingie, a small paper product that has become as indispensable as Kleenex. (Leon got the formula “by informal means” from a suddenly impoverished chemist. Message: He’ll be as ruthless as the next guy.) Leon has a vast estate in Connecticut but spends most of his time in the air, jetting around the world to keep his empire humming. While aloft, he writes notes to his grandchildren, Fabian and Rowena, to accompany his birthday gifts to them of scale models of cars that reflect the trajectory of his career. Thus the tale is epistolary in format, though it’s more like an extended toast (Leon excels at those) to money (“our most effective god”), to mobility, or to greater consumption of those man-made things that will eventually replace unproductive nature. Though his daughter Deedums is on-board, son-in-law Chip is a wretched lower-case liberal democrat (as opposed to the Conservative Republican Leon). More worrying is Leon’s wife, Deirdre. Leon doesn’t like women (“Men invent the world while women only populate it”), but he does need his wife, even though she’s seeking out the simple life—in a tent! Her nonsense exposes Leon to media mockery, which intensifies when he’s found wearing drag. This moment of farce recalls the purposeful lunacy of Crawford’s earlier work, but here that lunacy is much less on display, the novel’s format a hindrance to it. There will be more disappointment for Leon as his grandchildren become teenagers and trash or trade his priceless model cars, but the patriarch, nothing daunted, will install actual cars in his expanded living room. His marriage, though, will pretty much collapse (divorce is not an option for a Tuggs).

Reads like a buttoned-down Tom Wolfe.

Pub Date: March 4, 2005

ISBN: 1-58567-557-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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